The medicinal plant uses of flowers, plants and herbs in ancient remedies

The medicinal plant uses of flowers, plants and herbs in ancient remedies

A considerable percentage of our indigenous plants, flowers and trees are used in the ancient art of healing and was passed down through the centuries from mother to daughter and still in practice today.

Recent years have seen a significant resurgence of herbalism worldwide, and many books are available to increase our knowledge in this healthier alternative to prescription drugs.

Important Guidelines

  • Do NOT eat any part of a plant you don’t recognize as edible
  • Do NOT chew on items made from imported beans or seeds
  • Do NOT make teas or brews from plants you do not know
  • Make sure children understand and follow these rules
  • If a person needs medical care, take along a large sample of the plant in a brown paper bag. To help with identification, including the leaves, fruit, flowers, and any other parts.

Many species of plants may be used for medicinal purposes in the correct proportions but can, and has been known to, cause severe allergic reactions, even death, if not used correctly.

Cancer Bush (Sutherlandia frutescens) family Fabaceae

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Cancer Bush (Sutherlandia frutescens) family Fabaceae

This small bush was used many years ago by the Koi, San and early settlers in South Africa and is still used as a wash for wounds, to bring down fevers, treat chickenpox and for internal cancers. Farmworkers in the Cape still use it to treat eye problems. It is also used to treat colds, 'flu, asthma, TB, bronchitis, rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, liver problems, haemorrhoids, piles, bladder, uterus cramp, 'women's' complaints, diarrhoea, dysentery, stomach ailments, heartburn, peptic ulcers, backache, diabetes, varicose veins and inflammation. It is also used in the treatment of mental and emotional stress, including irritability, anxiety and depression and is used as a gentle tranquillizer.

It is also used in the treatment of mental and emotional stress, including irritability, anxiety and depression and is used as a gentle tranquillizer. It is said to be a useful bitter tonic and that a little taken before meals will aid digestion and improve the appetite. It is considered to be good general medicine. There is as yet no scientific support for the numerous claims and anecdotes that this plant can cure cancer, but there is preliminary clinical evidence that it has a direct anti-cancer effect in some cancers and that it acts as an immune stimulant. This plant occurs naturally throughout the dry parts of southern Africa, in Western Cape and up the west coast as far north as Namibia and into Botswana, and in the western Karoo to Eastern Cape.

African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus) family Cucurbitaceae

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African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus) family Cucurbitaceae

This African climber is cultivated in various parts of the world for its showy, edible fruits.

The melon jelly contains saponin, a substance which is often toxic, but which contains many medicinal properties. Saponin is a kind of oily glycoside that foams freely when shaken with water. In the Okavango area, the Shona tribe use a decoction of the root for relief of pain after childbirth. It is also alleged that the boiled root is a very good gonorrhoea cure. Only the bitter forms of the fruit are toxic. In South Africa it is found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Carpet Geranium (Geranium incanum) family Geraniaceae

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Carpet Geranium (Geranium incanum) family Geraniaceae

This plant is used traditionally by both African people and Europeans to make a medicinal tea from the leaves which are used to offer relief from certain complaints such as bladder infections, venereal diseases and conditions relating to menstruation. Found in the southwestern and eastern parts of the country.

Lemon Bush (Lippia javanica) family Verbenaceae

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Lemon Bush (Lippia javanica) family Verbenaceae

Different parts (the leaves, twigs and occasionally the roots) of the plant are used for various reasons. The Xhosa people are known to drink it as a weak infusion for a tea substitute and in a stronger infusion for the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchial problems in general.

They use the leaves and stem and drink it with milk or water. In addition the Xhosa people also use Lippia javanica for the disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthrax. This herb is also said to be effective against fever, especially in cases of malaria, influenza, measles, and as a prophylactic against lung infections. In these cases, it is often mixed with another herb Artemisia afra. The leaves and stems are burned, and the smoke has proven to be effective, if inhaled, against asthma, chronic coughs and pleurisy. Skin disorders, such as heat rash and other rashes, as well as scratches, stings and bites, can also be treated. Here the tea is usually cooled and then applied like a lotion. Even lice and scabies can be treated with it. These plants are widespread throughout large parts of South Africa, except for the Western Cape.

Pigs Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) family Crassulaceae

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Pigs Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) family Crassulaceae

This is a well-known medicinal plant. The fleshy part of the leaf is applied to soften and remove hard corns and warts. The Southern Sotho use a dried leaf as a protective charm for an orphan child and as a plaything. The heated leaf is used as a poultice for boils and other accessible inflammations, toothache and earache in particular. It is also reported that the juice has been used to treat epilepsy. It is widespread throughout South Africa but is usually confined to rocky outcrops in grassland, fynbos and Karoo regions.

Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox) family Alliaceae is a women's medicine

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Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox) family Alliaceae is a women's medicine

Agapanthus is used mainly as a women's medicine as it: increase the tone of uterine muscles during pregnancy, assists with contractions and helps expel placenta normally. It also serves as an aphrodisiac. The Zulu use agapanthus to treat heart disease, paralysis, coughs, colds, chest pains and tightness. Agapanthus has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory (have an influence on the immune system) properties. The plant is suspected of causing haemolytic poisoning in humans, and the sap causes severe ulceration of the mouth. Found worldwide.

Bitter Aloe (Aloe ferox) family: Aloaceae

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Bitter Aloe (Aloe ferox) family: Aloaceae

This flower is very famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice found just below the skin have been harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black, resinous product is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis." Schwedenbitters" which is found in many pharmacies, contains bitter aloe. The gel-like flesh from the inside of the leaves is used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound healing properties. Found throughout South Africa.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) family Apiaceae

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Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) family Apiaceae

Between 25-30 mg a day is enough to provide the daily dosage of vitamin C, and it has abundant quantities of other vitamins and minerals.  It is a general stimulant, diuretic, antiseptic, antirachitic, anti-infectious and more. Other effects: it straightens the body and immune system, has a beneficial impact on the liver, spleen, digestive and endocrine organs. From a medicinal point of view, parsley behaves as an anticancerous herb (it helps protect the liver and intestines from cancer), antirheumatic, stimulant of digestion and kidneys, eliminating toxins and kidney stones. They stimulate fertility and helps against dependency upon alcohol and against brain tumours.

Sour Fig (Carpobrethus acinaciformis) family Aizoaceae

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Sour Fig (Carpobrethus acinaciformis) family Aizoaceae

The leaves are highly astringent, mildly antiseptic, diuretic, styptic. Tannins are probably responsible for many of the beneficial properties. The leaf juice is taken orally to treat dysentery, diarrhoea and other digestive problems; tuberculosis. The leaf juice is gargled to treat infections of the mouth and throat and is applied topically to treat wounds, burns, eczema, toothache, earache, oral and vaginal thrush. The leaf pulp is employed as a poultice on wounds and infections. It is mainly found in sandy and rocky places near the sea.

Desert Broom (Cadaba aphylla) family Capparaceae

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Desert Broom (Cadaba aphylla) family Capparaceae

Some authorities claim that this plant is poisonous, but there is no real proof of this. It is, however known to possess medicinal properties. The moist, powdered plant is applied as a poultice between gauze to draw boils and abscesses. The root is used in small doses as a tonic and also as a purgative but an overdose might be toxic. They occur in the Karoo and the southern and eastern Cape.

The Wild Dagga (Leonotis leonurus) family Lamiaceae

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The Wild Dagga (Leonotis leonurus) family Lamiaceae

This plant was used as tobacco by the earliest settlers in South Africa. It is not related to real cannabis, but this plant can relieve headaches, nurse colds and coughs and fix high blood pressure. Found throughout South Africa.

Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com

* All photos by the author, except, lead photo by Adriaan Buys